Tag Archives: The women Friends

The Women Friends

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The Women Friends

The Women Friends was one of Gustav Klimt’s final works. Nothing is known about the two women in the painting but it is believed they were a real couple.

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Gustav Klimt, (1917) The Women Friends

Lesbian imagery played a role in Klimt’s catalogue of works since his 1904 painting Water Serpents. But while the water serpents are imaginary creatures, inhabiting a fantastical, underwater world, the women friends are part of the here and now, making it easier for the audience to identify with them.

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Gustav Klimt, 1904, Water Serpents

Klimt’s 1913 painting, The Maidens also explores this theme. Here, womankind is shown with many different aspects to her identity of which sexuality is only one. She is entwined with other figures representing death and evolution into womanhood.

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Gustav Klimt, (1913) The Maidens

Stylistically, in The Women Friends, Klimt achieved a flat visual plane, throwing off the three-dimensional verisimilitude of his earlier career. His appreciation of Japanese art with its ambiguous background / foreground relationship influenced this painting and his mosaic style paintings from his golden phase.

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Gustav Klimt, (1907) Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer

Like so much of Klimt’s late work, the painting is partially about space and the various illusions that art creates to deal with it.

Gustav Klimt and Japanese Rinpa Tradition

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Gustav Klimt and Japanese Rinpa Tradition

Gustav Klimt may never have set foot in Japan, but his enchantment with Japanese art and design was abundantly evident in his paintings.

In the late eighteenth century, Japonism swept through Europe, influencing the work of French artists like Van Gogh and Cezanne. For Klimt, whose early work was faithful to the principals of realism, these new stimuli gave rise to a change in style. In his later work we see flat visual planes, strong colours, patterned surfaces and linear outlines.

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Gustav Klimt, Hope II, (1908)

He also began to incorporate Japanese textiles into his art. His long term friend, Emilie Flöge was a collector of Japanese textile designs and it is known that the pair created several dresses together.

Klimt particularly admired the Rinpa School, one of the major historical schools of Japanese painting.  The Rinpa School was founded in Kyoto in 1615 by artists Hon’ami Koetsu and Tawaraya Sotatsu who produced numerous works of ceramics, calligraphy and lacquerware, decorative fans, kimono textiles and folding screens. They also specialised in making decorative paper using calligraphy on gold and silver backgrounds.

During the decades that followed, the Rinpa school went through several revivals. In the late seventeenth century, brothers Ogata Korin and Otaga Kenzan began depicting nature by mixing numerous colours and hues on the surface to achieve unusual effects. They also made liberal use of gold, pearl and other precious substances. The style was characterised by flowers, birds, plants and flowers set against gold leaf, (below).

Perhaps Klimt’s most famaus painting from his ‘Golden Phase’ was the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, (below left), but he also used gold leaf in many of his other works including his Tree of Life, (below right), whose swirling pattern echoes Ogata Korin’s work.

Flowers and birds were also favourite motifs of Klimt’s. For example, in one of his last paintings, The Women Friends, (1917), the lovers are surrounded by the glorious phoenix, and symbols of doom: the raven and the red eyed swan.

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Gustav Klimt, The Women Friends, (1917)

During his career, Gustav Klimt absorbed several influences and created a wholly unique style that changed and developed throughout his life. However, his association with Japanese art made a profound difference to his work and helped to shape the beautiful, ornate paintings that are celebrated to this day.

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Emma Rose Millar was born in Birmingham – a child of the seventies. She is a single mum and lives with her young son who keeps her very busy and very happy. Emma left school at 16 and later studied for an Open University degree in Humanities with English Literature. She has had a variety of jobs including chocolatier, lab technician and editorial assistant for a magazine but now works part-time as an interpreter. Emma writes and historical fiction and children’s picture books. She won the Legend category of the Chaucer Awards with FIVE GUNS BLAZING in 2014. Her novella THE WOMEN FRIENDS: SELINA, based on the work of Gustav Klimt and co-written with author Miriam Drori will be published in December 2016 by Crooked Cat Books.

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Absinthe and the Artist

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“What is there in absinthe that makes it a separate cult? Even in ruin and in degradation it remains a thing apart: its victims wear a ghastly aureole all their own, and in their peculiar hell yet gloat with a sinister perversion of pride that they are not as other men.” Aleister Crowley, The Green Goddess (1918).

Absinthe has been around since biblical times. The name itself comes from the Greek absinthion meaning undrinkable. Traditionally it was made from the flowers and leaves of wormwood with sweet fennel, green anise and other medicinal and culinary herbs, sometimes with an alcohol content of as much as 80%!

But the modern story of absinthe began in the 1830’s when French troops fighting in Algeria used it as an anti-malarial medicine. Soldiers mixed the bitter drink with wine in order to make it more palatable. They brought absinthe back home with them and middle class Parisians, eager to align themselves with the military soon developed a voracious appetite for the green goddess!

Parisiens filled the cafes, drinking one glass after the next, leading writer H P Hugh to observe: “The sickly odour of absinthe lies heavily in the air. The absinthe hour of the Boulevards begins vaguely at half-past five… but the deadly opal drink lasts longer than anything else.”

In the 1870’s many vineyards were destroyed by phylloxera and wine became an expensive commodity. Absinthe could be made cheaply with industrial alcohol. Soon street corner vendors were producing huge quantities for sale at just a few centimes a glass. The love of absinthe spread all over Europe and some parts of the United States, but in many quarters, this, addictive and mind altering drink was mistrusted. Blamed for breaking up relationships, erratic behaviour, concerns were being raised about its psychoactive and hallucinogenic effects. By 1915 it had been banned in France, Switzerland, Austro-Hungary, Belgium and the United States.

So why did so many artists and writers become embroiled with this mysterious green drink? Absinthe was the favoured tipple of many of the Surrealists, Modernists, Impressionists, Post-Impressionists and Cubists. Absinthe drinkers and the ritual paraphernalia: a glass, slotted spoon, sugar cubes and jugs of drinking water became the subject of many late 19th and early 20th century paintings.

Vincent van Gogh was renowned for his love of the green muse. He suffered from psychotic episodes and delusions, but this was due to a number of factors, of which his alcoholism was only one. Many of Van Gogh’s paintings, particularly his skies have an hallucinogenic quality to them and are often tinged with the green hue of absinthe.

Vincent van Gogh, Night Cafe, Sunflowers, Green Wheat Fields

Edouard Manet’s first painting was The Absinthe Drinker, (1857), a portrait of a famous drunk in Paris. When he submitted it to the Salon jury in 1859, it received only one vote of acceptance, due to its vulgar subject matter and crude style.

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Edouard Manet, The Absinthe Drinker, (1857)

Edgar Degas’ grim realisation of the effects of the drink, L’Absinthe, (1876) caused a stir in London where critics saw it as a warning against alcohol and the French in general.

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Edgar Degas, L’Absinthe, (1876)

But the artist perhaps most associated with the drink was Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Famous for his depictions of brothels, nightspots and entertainment, Lautrec was rumoured to carry with him a hollow cane inside which he always kept a vial of absinthe.

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Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Mauri Dance

Today’s absinthe is a tongue-numbing drink more associated with amusement than inspiration. Added sometimes in small quantities to cocktails, it has never regained the reputation it enjoyed in 19th century Europe. But the mention of it still conjures up images of bohemian European artists and literary figures, of pavement cafes late at night and a sickly green haze.

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Viktor Olivia, Absinthe Drinker, (1901)